As farmers look for ways to improve soil health, there may be another crop in the future worth their while to incorporate into rotations: grain peas.
Researchers at Corteva Agriscience and Montana State University are evaluating hard-grain field pea varieties for multiple uses such as cover crops, a grazing forage, a grain cash crop or even in a double-cropping system. They are also looking at selecting winter pea varieties — a hardier choice for cold-weather climates in the Midwest.
EXPLORING ALTERNATIVES: Corteva research scientist Sara Lira, based in central Iowa, is working on projects that explore alternative crop uses for hard-grain peas.
Sara Lira, a research scientist with Corteva based in central Iowa, said the company has planted newer winter pea varieties last fall in Illinois, Indiana and in two locations in Iowa. Even with subzero temperatures and no snow cover in some of the areas, she was optimistic about the varieties’ winter-hardiness.
“Winter peas can do everything a spring pea can do while providing the same benefits as a cover crop,” Lira said.
Lira shared her research during a virtual presentation this winter at Commodity Classic.
Winter peas planted in September in fields with crop residue grow throughout the fall, hibernate over winter and resume growing again in March. By late June to early July, the crop is harvested, and the option is there then to grow another crop, or to seed the field to a cover crop
“Or you could produce biomass for cattle to graze, such as sorghum sudan, millet and cowpeas.” Lira added.
However, the researchers have found thus far that I-80 is the dividing line for double-cropping with peas. South of that, growers can get in a short season silage or bean. Not so north of the line.
Data from 2020 trials among 13 locations mostly in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois show the average yield among nine varieties was 39 bushels per acre. The average highest yield of one variety hit 48 bushels.
“We had hoped for [an average yield of] 60, but it was still competitive,” Lira noted. “If we figure out the right varieties and fertility, we could make the crop a success in the Midwest.”
A second pea product concept Lira said they are researching is growing your own nitrogen or green manure. The theory is that as the pea plant breaks down, it replaces synthetic N with its own N throughout the season. Plus, the plant helps rebuild soil. Lira said they will be collaborating with Iowa State University to measure N contributions from peas to corn throughout the growing season at various locations.